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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Clergy Day Hospitality

I usually anticipate Fall Clergy Day with the same enthusiasm I have in anticipation of going to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned.

You know you have to do it. You know it's important. You know you'll feel better when it's all over. But, man, it's just hard to get excited about sitting in a room filled with clergy, everyone smiling - some through grit teeth - everyone saying how wonderful everything is - even though you know they may be going through a rough patch in their marriage or family or congregation - but everyone being rigorously and relentlessly hail-fellow-well-met and keep-calm-and-carry-on.

Someone usually picks up a bag of bagels and doughnut holes and a few boxes of coffee that is lukewarm after an hour and stone cold by break time.  Lunch is often a couple of foot long subs someone picks up from the deli and a bucket filled with ice and soda can. 

You know. 'Cuz it's so healthy.

Today was my second Fall Clergy Day in the Diocese of DE and, when I woke up this morning, I found myself not exactly excited and enthusiastic but unexpectedly and pleasantly happy.

It wasn't just because I had a 15 minute ride to get there as opposed to the 90 minute ride to Wilmington. It was at the parish hall of St. George's Chapel - which is in partnership with All Saint's Church in Rehoboth Beach. My rector is rector of both (very different) congregations - one rural and the other in the midst of a resort area. It's a herculean task which he does with great skill and a spirit of generosity and compassion.

There are some very fine clergy in this diocese. No, really. Beginning with my rector, but certainly not limited to him. It's a small diocese (32 congregations) and, it's not the Northeast Corridor so things tend to move a lot more slowly here - even slower "below the canal" where I am - and, while there are the usual "clunkers" here and there, there seems not to be as many, proportionately, as in other dioceses where I've served.

The agenda was packed, as usual, and there was the expected report from the bishop - newly elected chair of CGP (applause, applause), a "report back" (a minor irritation of mine about the redundancy of that term which everybody uses with such frequency that everyone thinks is correct form) from the General Convention Deputation and a nifty little exercise that got us talking with each other in small groups and served to help the planning committee do some programmatic planning for the year.

Here's what made the difference: Hospitality.

When we arrived, there was not only fresh, hot GOOD coffee awaiting us but also homemade (not from a box) fresh, hot out of the oven banana, apple, and peach pastries AND some fresh, hot, homemade (not from a box) muffins. Really.

My rector had assembled a cooking crew - including former wardens and a present warden who is a retired Presbyterian minister - who arrived at the Parish Hall at 8 AM, rolled up their sleeves, and were in the kitchen, slicing and dicing to a faretheewell. 

They do this sort of thing all the time. Really. We joke that the "unofficial mission statement" at both churches is, "Hey, ya gotta eat."

After we broke for noonday prayer in the Chapel, lunch was a whole, 12 pound salmon on the grille as well as a cheese, veggie philo delicacy for the vegetarians in the crowd. There were assorted grilled veggies and, I hear, an amazing dessert. All made in the parish kitchen.

I couldn't stay for lunch - had a one o'clock that had been on my calendar long before the schedule for Clergy Day came out - but I saw the salmon grilling and I've already heard about it from some colleagues who called to ask why I wasn't at lunch. They simply RAVED about the food.

That's been my experience of clergy here. They mostly genuinely like each other and, even when they don't, the hospitality is gracious and genuine and always errs on the side of generosity.

You know, I think that is not only a model of servant leadership, I think that sets the tone for the rest of the diocese. It makes a difference. A huge difference, in my experience.

Are there problems? Absolutely. Are there difficulties? No doubt. Is it perfect? No way. Does it guarantee anything? Nope.

Here's the thing: With all the incivility and rudeness in the world, there's something wonderful about finding a haven where manners matter and hospitality counts and generosity is both the norm and is appreciated.

Is that going to save the world? Probably not. But, I think, when servant leaders are servant leaders to other servant leaders, it creates a culture and an environment that just might help to change it a bit.

Let's call it a theory of "trickle down hospitality". It doesn't work with economics - as the last 40 years have shown - but I suspect it makes all the difference in the church.

I recommend it highly.


Elaine C. said...

I feel dread for our next clergy day -- the bishop is going to talk about what kind of clergy he wants in the diocese -- and entrepreneurial is the word he's been using lately. Maybe it will be ok ... clergy days have improved some here ... the first one I went to (with 50+ attendees) they didn't have nametags -- and I was told nametags weren't needed because the bishop knows who all the clergy are. I'd only been in the diocese about two weeks -- and that did not feel welcoming ...

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Elaine C - That's because it wasn't welcoming. Can you imagine what happens in their congregations? I remember clearly when one Vestry member said, "You know, we want people to come to church and we practice hospitality and want them to stay for coffee hour and then we serve them coffee - bad coffee - that's been sitting in a big pot for several hours. How hospitable is that?"

Within a month, we had changed our whole coffee system, biting the bullet and investing in a local coffee shop's coffee (fair trade) and a system that allowed us to brew the coffee into large canister that kept coffee hot for 10 hours without "over cooking it". It made a huge difference.

It really is the little things that matter most.

Jackie said...

Most excellent, and an example that can be scaled to any occasion. When I attended my first parish work day at my current sorta-parish, there was NOTHING to eat and NOTHING to drink. I asked the rector, and was told there was no money for such things. Really??? He couldn't pick up some pastry, or make a few calls and have somem of the super parish cooks bring some muffins? I put on a pot of coffee, and you would think I had cracked open a 30 year-old bottle of single malt--seriously. So I guess his fingers were broken as well, inhibiting him from making coffee. That is the antithesis of what happened at your clergy days. And no, nearly two years later there are still no goodies of any sort as meager thanks to the folks who turn up every other month to do hard, dirty work. And I know you are thinking this question because I am wearing my Karnac the Magnificent turban today: no, the parish is not growing. Indeed, attendence is falling off, and it makes me very, very sad.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jackie - no surprise. Sad, but no surprise. When I rector of one congregation, they rarely ate together. Coffee hour was pathetic. My youth missioner and I said, "What? Are you kidding? When we were kids, we never got home from church before 2 PM because we pretty much ate lunch at the church, there was so much food. Real food." We started bringing stuff and others followed suit and, by the time we left, the "coffee hour" was not what we remembered as kids, but had improved 100%.

Hey, ya gotta eat.

Unknown said...

Eating is so very important. It nourishes the body and sometimes the soul. We Episcopalians usually do the food thing well.
Our little parish in Norfolk really did the food thing well. WE had a pot luck dinner or lunch at least once a month and everybody came. It was a time of fellowship and just spending time together. Our part time parish priest even drove the hour+ commute so he could be there. Then he retired and things changed...not for the best I fear.
No longer do we have the pot luck dinners or lunches once a month...our new priest who only has a 20 minute commute doesn't think they are important. And as with other congregations, membership is dwindling....hmmm do you think maybe there is a correlation between not feeding the people real food in the pulpit or in the fellowship hall has something to do with the dwindling attendance?